SUBJECTS: Bushfire crisis across Australia; recovery process for the bushfires; recovery for flora and fauna impacted by the bushfire crisis; Labor’s climate change policies going forward; US-Iran tensions.
PETER MALINAUSKAS, SOUTH AUSTRALIAN LABOR LEADER: Well, thanks everyone for joining us here at the Paradise Primary School where the Adelaide Koala Rescue are undertaking some extraordinary work. I am very grateful to be here with Anthony Albanese, the Federal Leader of our Party, and the Leader of the Opposition federally. This is not the first time that Albo has been to Adelaide and South Australia over recent days and weeks. And I want to thank you Albo for your support for our state during this time of need. It is also great to be here with Terri Butler, all the way from the Sunshine State, ahead of the Shadow Cabinet meeting tomorrow. I want to thank Jane from the Adelaide Koala Rescue. Jane is a hard-working volunteer who started Adelaide Koala Rescue only 18 months ago and today they find themselves in an extraordinary situation looking after in excess of one hundred koalas that are literally without a home, that are often orphaned, as a result of this unfolding bushfire crisis that has happened here in South Australia over recent weeks. We know that South Australians, along with other Australians around the country, have rallied. And Adelaide Koala Rescue is just one example of a group of volunteers coming together, literally working around the clock, to look after our natural habitat that has been so vastly damaged. I want to thank South Australians for their ongoing resilience. And I want to thank Anthony again for being here in Adelaide over the next couple of days, doing whatever Federal Labor can do to advocate for an adequate response to this unfolding emergency across our nation, including right here in South Australia.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks very much, Peter. And thanks to Terri for joining us as well. But, particular thanks to Jane for hosting us here at the Adelaide Koala rescue. This organisation is doing magnificent work. We just met a volunteer who has just arrived from Perth to help out, a vet nurse. We have people helping out. And they need more resources here. And Terri will say a bit more about how people can donate to support this vital work. What we know is that at least 25 Australians have lost their lives during this national emergency. In addition to that, we have had thousands of homes lost. We have seen whole communities uprooted and destroyed. This is going to take an enormous effort. But also, we should not forget that we have something like a million Australian native animals that have been destroyed, lost their lives. We have also on top of that, many that have been injured They have lost their habitat. What we can see is an unfolding ecological disaster. In some areas, when I was in Victoria, I was told that areas of Gippsland, when they grow back, will grow back in a very different form from what has existed beforehand. The same on places like Kangaroo Island and the Adelaide Hills, which I visited with Peter just on Saturday. So, what this will need is a response to our wildlife, as well as to our flora and our native vegetation to do what we can to make sure that restoration is done. In the short-term, of course, the work is being done here. We just saw young Robert, a koala, that had its paws all burnt. They had come down because there are no gum leaves left on the trees, so had to come down onto hot terrain. And many of these koalas have been injured. Many of them have been singed. This is just devastating for this population, as well as koala populations throughout New South Wales and Victoria.
Today, we have an announcement in terms of; we will be writing to the Government asking for three things. One is that we want, arising out of this, there to be a national ecological audit. We need to have a real assessment about what the impact is, and a plan working off that of how to move forward to fire restoration. The second measure, and something that should oversee that, is to convene a meeting of environmental ministers, the COAG subcommittee, so that the Commonwealth can properly coordinate with state and territory governments as well as local government to provide that support. And the third goes to the ongoing funding that will be required for the Bushfire Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre. This was funded in 2013. It’s played an important role. We can see that research into bushfires will be more necessary in the future, not less. It was funded for eight years. That funding runs out on 1 July of next year. It’s important for certainty that that funding be provided. Common-sense tells you that, I can’t imagine that won’t happen. But they need that certainty now. And the Government should commit to that as well. These are three practical measures. And one of the things that Labor has tried to do under my leadership is to put forward constructive suggestions during this national emergency. This, when we look at the impact that it’s had, the non-human impact is enormous. But it is absolutely vital, your heart breaks when you see firsthand how these beautiful animals that are so important to our very character, a defining animal of Australia, the impact that these fires have had is quite devastating. And can I say that Jane is an inspiration. And her fellow volunteers here. This is operating 24 hours a day. Just looking after these koalas, trying to get them back to a point whereby they can be released back into the wild. Terri?
TERRI BUTLER, SHADOW MINISTER FOR ENVIRONMENT AND WATER: Thanks, Anthony. The national bushfire emergency has been absolutely devastating. And of course, people around Australia have been just so devastated to hear the loss of life and loss of property. And they’re also reaching out about damage to the environment and to animals, both native animals and to stock. Today we’ve seen at the Koala Rescue Centre just exactly what can be done when community-minded people want to pull together and do what they can to step up and help. We’ve spoken to people who’ve travelled here, people whose employers have given them leave to be here, locals who are billeting people, and of course community members who are here volunteering. And it’s wonderful to see. And I know that so many Australians are just horrified by what’s happening, particularly to our national icon, the koala. There’s so much feeling as Australians, our identity is wrapped up in the bush, it’s wrapped up in our iconic animals and the koalas at the top of that. So, if you want to help, the Adelaide Koala Rescue has got a GoFundMe page. I encourage you to have a look at that GoFundMe page. You can go to their website as well, akr.org.au. I know there’s a lot of Australians out there who do want to help. So, if you want to make a financial contribution, and Jane has been telling us today that they’ve had to find money to buy things to house the koalas in, medical supplies, drugs. They need a lot of help and a lot of support. This is a grassroots organisation. There are plenty of other organisations, of course, doing incredible work to protect wildlife following on from the bushfire disasters. I know that Australians will want to help. So, please do dig deep and support this organisation.
ALBANESE: Thanks very much. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese can I ask, fire brigades across the nation have gone in together to call for a Royal Commission into this bushfire disaster. Is that something you support?
ALBANESE: Look, what we have said is that we’re very open to that. We have said in terms of priorities, in terms of timing, there hasn’t yet been a meeting of COAG. And in a meeting of COAG the Prime Minister with the Premiers and Chief Ministers can actually make decisions to impact things right now. We will need a proper assessment of this. And a Royal Commission, of course, is consistent with what I’ve called for today, an ecological audit is something that should happen regardless of whether a Royal Commission goes ahead or not. There, of course, will be coronial inquiries as a result of the deaths that have occurred. And they will go into, as coronial inquiries do, in very detail about the circumstances behind the loss of life that has happened. And will make recommendations about how that can be potentially avoided in the future, or at least minimised, those occurrences.
JOURNALIST: Should the Government consider expanding its aerial firefighting fleet?
ALBANESE: Absolutely. And we called for that. We actually had $80 million in the budget to do that. We announced that in March of 2019. I called for it in the letter that I wrote to the Prime Minister calling for COAG to meet in November. It’s very clear, this is not business-as-usual. This is a national emergency. It’s a crisis. And it needs an appropriate response.
JOURNALIST: You say you support a Royal Commission, or are considering a Royal Commission, but you won’t say today that one should definitely occur? Is that what you are saying?
ALBANESE: Well, my priority is to look at what can occur that can make a difference now on the ground in coming weeks and months. We’re still in the midst of this crisis. The Victorian peak season hasn’t begun yet. So, we need to look at those measures, I believe, first. And that’s why I’ve been arguing. I argued that COAG should meet in November to get a national response. As of Saturday, the Prime Minister agreed that there needs to be a national response. So, that’s my priority. A Royal Commission, of course, if it’s called, won’t report for many, many months. And usually it takes more than a year. If you’re going to have a Royal Commission, it needs to be done properly. I think there are some obvious contenders for people who could conduct such a Royal Commission. And I have that in mind. But I would hope to get some agreement out of the Government. I don’t want this to be a partisan issue. Today we’ve announced three initiatives we think the Government should undertake. Tomorrow we’ll have Shadow Cabinet meeting here in Adelaide. And we’ll be discussing further measures. I’ve asked people to come forward, such as Chris Bowen on health. Terri’s brought forward already the environmental suggestions in that area. But, this will require a whole-of-government response.
JOURNALIST: What’s Labor’s climate policy?
ALBANESE: We think climate change is real. And we think that you need to drive down emissions. You need to have a strong domestic policy. At the moment we don’t have an energy policy. We don’t have a climate policy. The other policy we have is that the Government should act. I don’t want to wait until after the next election for there to be some action. And at the moment, you don’t have that. And secondly, as well, if you have strong domestic policy, you can then have credibility on the international stage. At the moment we have a circumstance whereby while these bushfires were happening, Angus Taylor was over in Madrid arguing for less action, not more.
JOURNALIST: Has this crisis changed your stance when it comes to unequivocal support for the coal industry and coal exports?
ALBANESE: Well, when have I said that?
JOURNALIST: In December.
ALBANESE: No, I didn’t say that at all. I didn’t say that at all. What I said was that if you stopped coal exports immediately, then what you would have is more emissions rather than less. Because displacement would occur from other countries that have coal that emits higher greenhouse gases than the relatively better burning Australian coal. That’s what I said in December. I’ve argued for strong domestic action. I have argued for strong international action. I have argued it since I wrote Labor’s climate change policy in 2006 that I launched as the Shadow Minister with Kim Beazley, that led to the 2007 policy, which was a policy that I’m proud of, that was being implemented, that was comprehensive, recognised international action and also had in it the renewable energy target. It had the creation of a range of agencies to support the shift to clean energy. I’ve been very consistent about this.
JOURNALIST: Has that stance to coal exports changed at all since this crisis began?
ALBANESE: What we need is policies, not slogans. And I’ve been consistent about that. I continue to believe we need a strong climate change policy, not just a two-word slogan. And that is important. If you stop, just like if you stopped burning coal today in Australia immediately, then the lights that are running this centre would go off. Because we still rely upon coal-fire as well as renewable energy. Even here in South Australia that because of the former Labor Government has led the way across the country. Labor will take strong action. But we won’t also argue, as some would imply, that you can just flick a switch and change immediately. What you need to do is transition to a system whereby you have less emissions, you need to do that domestically. But we also need to engage internationally.
JOURNALIST: Just on the bushfire crisis, there’s lots of speculation, perhaps misinformation, about what has fuelled these fires. How important is it that we get to the bottom of it?
ALBANESE: Well, what we know is that the Garnaut report in 2008 said that the bushfire season by 2020 would look a little bit like what we are seeing played out. We know that report was based upon advice from the CSIRO and the science. We know that is a major factor. We know also, of course, that some human beings, for reasons beyond my comprehension, have lit fires. We also know that the drought, in terms of drying up of our continent, has meant that some areas such as tropical rainforest that have not burned before have burned this time. And we know also that resources need to be allocated to national parks and other areas to make sure there is appropriate hazard reduction. We know it can be effective. I’ve seen firsthand in the briefings I’ve had at Rural Fire Services in places like the Blue Mountains, the impact that it has had. So, one of the concerns that I have is that for a while, last year 2019, as this was building up, there was a bit of an approach from some saying, ‘we’ve had natural disasters before we will come through this’. A bit of ‘nothing to see here’. This is not business-as-usual. This is a national emergency. This does require a comprehensive response. And the first priority, of course, must be to protect lives. And then to protect properties and to minimise damage. But, we also need to give consideration to the broader impact. The impact on the economy. The impact on our animals, which is why we’re here today. The impact on our ecology that’s so important for the nature of our country. The social impact. The health impacts, which will be ongoing. This will have a very significant impact into the future. We also need to have proper assessments about whether perhaps this is more like the new norm, what we’re seeing played out here. I hope that’s not the case. But, certainly we need better preparedness in the future.
JOURNALIST: What are the key things that Labor would implement in regard to its climate policy?
ALBANESE: Well, if you have a look at what we’ve done, we’ve always taken climate change seriously. We signed up to the Kyoto Protocol. We were involved constructively with the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. We also put in place, when we’re in Government, the Renewable Energy Target that has driven change in this country. We also established, when we’re in Government, organisations like the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, like ARENA. We don’t question the science. The problem we have in this country is that we have a Government where some people do believe in the science. Malcolm Turnbull believed in the science, he was the Prime Minister. But he couldn’t act because he had this handbrake of a bunch of people like Craig Kelly, who has been embarrassing us now not just domestically but internationally. He has gone global with his nonsense, frankly. Even amidst this crisis, why you would go out there, and what that shows, and it would be a bit of a shock to some people, I think, perhaps even Craig Kelly, that he does an interview with a right-wing commentator, like Piers Morgan, on one of the private TV shows, not the BBC over there, and he probably expected to get a good reception. He should go have a look at what Margaret Thatcher did, who showed leadership on climate change. Boris Johnson just got elected on zero emissions by 2050. In most parts of the world, climate change and the need to act is not controversial. It shouldn’t be ideological. It shouldn’t be ideological here. I do note that the Marshall Government having criticised everything that Jay Weatherill did about the battery and other issues, has had a conversion. That’s a good thing if people are changing their mind with regard to some of the rhetoric that they’ve been prepared to roll out. But Labor will take strong action on climate change. What we’re not going to do is let this Government off the hook between now and 2022 and say that we will act on the basis of nothing happening in the meantime. Because the Government itself adopted the NEG, the National Energy Guarantee. They adopted it through the Cabinet. They put it through their Caucus and Party room twice, and then nothing happened. They need to act, and we would encourage them to act and we will continue to be constructive.
JOURNALIST: Will you be visiting KI?
ALBANESE: No. Simply, I don’t have the resources of the Prime Minister. I spoke to the Prime Minister this morning. I have to travel commercially. And so, it’s more difficult. I visited the Adelaide Hills. We have a Shadow Ministry tomorrow. And Peter will be coming along to that. We’ve been in contact, as well, with Leon Bignell, the state member. I’ve also spoken on two occasions with Rebekha Sharkie, the local Federal Member, about what’s happening now.
JOURNALIST: Couldn’t you hop on the ferry?
ALBANESE: I could. But, you also have to balance whether you’re getting in the way or whether you’re actually making a contribution. I will at some time. I’ve been in Adelaide three times in under a month. So, I am a regular visitor here and will continue to be so. And of course, Kangaroo Island I’ve been a visitor to as the Infrastructure Minister. We significantly upgraded the infrastructure and the tourism facilities at KI. We also funded the airport there while I was the Minister. Because it is so important for tourism. I know its iconic here in South Australia. But it’s important nationally and indeed globally.
JOURNALIST: Just going back to the ecological audit. Can you explain what that will encompass, why it’s important, and how it would be used?
ALBANESE: Well, what you need to do is to assess what the impact has been. At the moment, there’s no doubt that when you look at individual conservation groups, state national parks, there will be state department that will be looking at these issues. But you need to bring it all together in one spot. What’s the impact? For example, there’s the potoroo in East Gippsland, there’s the impact of the koalas on Kangaroo Island, there’s the impact on all of these native faunas. Perhaps, as well, animals that might not be as cuddly as a koala but are just as important need to be looked at in terms of what the impact has been. We need that done centrally in one spot. We need also to look at the flora as well. The impact on native vegetation. What the impact will be. There needs to be an assessment about what happens in areas that have been cleared, effectively. What happens if the vegetation grows back in a different way? How do we protect native species growing back if there’s a predatory species which would displace native vegetation, which would ensure that there was less diversity? And the impact that would have as well. Given the ecological system, everything relates to everything else, as Paulo Freire said. And everything has got to go somewhere. So, if you have an impact on one bit of the system, it can have a knock-on impact. And we need scientists, not politicians, to look at that. Because they’re the experts. Just as here in Jane’s team, there’s vets and vet nurses, and people who are experts looking at this. That is something that we’re going to need to do to have that assessment so that in three or five years’ time, we don’t say, ‘Gee, we wish we had have taken that into account because we could have made a difference’.
JOURNALIST: So, you say that Labor would take strong action on climate change. Can you be any more specific about what it would change or go back to?
ALBANESE: I’ve been very clear with you. I can say the same thing. If you ask the same question, you normally get the same answer. I have been specific about advancement of renewable energy, about engagement in international action, about the need to drive down our emissions. What we won’t to do, though, is to say in 2022, we will do this if we’re elected, at this point in time. Because we have to take into account what the Government does. And we’re not going to sit back and say, ‘It’s okay if the Government does nothing over the next two years’. So, we’ll be working off the base in terms of that. We will be continuing to discuss our policies. We took some policies to the election. But, when you lose an election, it is appropriate that you have a reassessment and a new approach. We will be doing that. But it will be consistent with our values. And our values are; we are the Party that defends the environment. The most significant environmental challenge facing Australia and the world is climate change. And it’s not just an environmental challenge. It’s one that will damage our economy. Good action on climate change, if you go back, we have been very specific about policies. And I direct you to the jobs and the future of work vision statement. No accident that it was the first one. Good policy on climate change will create jobs, it will lower emissions, and will lower power prices. That’s why the Government’s position of creating uncertainty which is leading to a withdrawal of investment, investment in clean energy is going down, not up in terms of new investment. What we’re seeing at the moment is some of that is coming online, that’s coming online off the base of previous policies. And that’s why the Government went to Madrid and argued that we should take into account what Labor did. And the fact that we beat the Kyoto target because of what was there between 2007-2013. We’ve said that we should not do that. And we would not do that. We want to lower emissions, not engage in accounting tricks.
JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, just on Iran. Given we are starting to see retaliation for what the assassination was, are we moving closer towards war? Should we have more troops in this area or should we be pulling troops out now?
ALBANESE: Look, these are very dangerous circumstances. I spoke to the Prime Minister this morning about the events that have occurred. It’s unclear some of that detail. And so, we would expect to get a further detailed briefing today. I know the National Security Committee will be meeting tomorrow. And I’ll be having a discussion with our Shadow National Security Committee here in Adelaide tomorrow about the latest events. I would simply say a few things. One is that I’d call upon all parties to exercise restraint. The actions of the United States have led to another response from Iran. This is potentially very dangerous indeed. And I don’t want to see Australia drawn into a military conflict in the Middle East. And I think that the first priority, I agree with the Prime Minister in our discussion, the first priority should be ensuring that Australians are kept safe. The Australians are located very close to where the Americans are located in the area that’s been targeted in Iraq. So, they’re just next door. And certainly, in terms of Angus Campbell, the head of the Australian Defence Force, the priority has been ensuring that Australians are kept safe.